Trouble at Yasukuni

Trouble at Yasukuni

Recently, there has been trouble at Yasukuni Jinja, and the chief priest has had to resign. Jinja Shinpō reported it, but they were very coy, and only said that he had made “improper remarks” in an internal meeting at the jinja.

So, obviously, I had to Google it to find out what he had said.

It appears that he said that when the Tennō travels to distant places to honour the war dead, it pushes Yasukuni Jinja further out of people’s awareness (presumably as the most appropriate place to honour the war dead), and that the current Tennō wants to crush Yasukuni Jinja.

Now, I can understand why these remarks would not be popular with the Shinto establishment. They are institutionally committed to the Tennō agreeing with their policies and positions, because the idea that they follow the Tennō is central to their conception of the Japanese state and the role of Shinto. If the chief priest of Yasukuni Jinja, a central part of that establishment, suggests that the Tennō does not support Yasukuni Jinja, that is a serious threat to that institutional belief. However, I really do not agree with his resignation.

First, the Tennō is very important to Yasukuni Jinja (see my essay about it for the reasons why), so it is part of the chief priest’s job to have an opinion about the Tennō’s attitude to his jinja. I do not need to have an opinion; the chief priest does.

Second, the opinion he expressed is not completely unreasonable. The current Tennō is clearly deliberately avoiding going to Yasukuni Jinja. He frequently visits jinja, and he frequently honours the war dead, but he never visits the jinja across the road from his home to honour the war dead. I have a different hypothesis about the reason (again, see my essay about Yasukuni Jinja), but the former chief priest’s hypothesis is not unsupported by the facts.

Third, he expressed that opinion at an internal meeting within the jinja, not in public. There are very good reasons for not saying that publicly, but he did not. If he thinks that this is why the Tennō is avoiding the jinja, he needs to discuss it with the other priests, and talk about how they should respond. It is, after all, also part of his job to ensure that the jinja survives.

So, he had a reasonable opinion about something important to his job that he expressed in an appropriate and private context, and he had to resign because other people (probably within Yasukuni Jinja as well as outside) believed that he should not think that.

I think that is a serious mistake, and could be a sign of a serious problem for the Shinto establishment. They need to be able to discuss, at least internally, the possibility that important parts of Japanese society do not see Shinto the way they would like them to, so that they can talk about how to respond to that situation. If even the chief priest of Yasukuni Jinja can lose his job for raising such possibilities, how can anyone else breathe a single word?

2 thoughts on “Trouble at Yasukuni

  1. Glad to hear your opinion about it, and would like to add my differing opinion. Jinja Honcho considers His Majesty to be the highest priest of the nation, as do a massive number of Japanese people. If he is displeased with Yasukuni that is really their problem and not his, and they shouldn’t respond by indicating a stance of lèse majesté, even in internal discussions. If the chief priest had not resigned this would have indicated either incoherence in Yasukuni’s and Jinja Honcho’s position, or else an open rebellion against the Emperor.

    1. Interesting. So, if I understand you, given his opinion, the chief priest should have been working to close Yasukuni Jinja down, or revise their position substantially to accord more with the Tennō’s position.

      It’s possible that he was. He brought back the stalls in the Mitama Matsuri, which is a strong concession to popular opinion, and someone within Yasukuni had to have an interest in leaking his comments; opposition to proposed changes would provide that.

      In any case, I also believe that the Shinto establishment needs to be able to have frank internal discussions about their relationship to the Tennō, so the same problem arises; he should not have had to resign because he has an unpopular opinion on that relationship.

      I think it is beyond dispute that the current Tennō is deeply committed to the Shinto tradition. Given that, if the Shinto establishment really do want to follow his lead, they should be having frank internal discussions about what conclusions can be drawn from his choices, statements, and activities. This does not augur well for that.

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